Formula One is a sport that is constantly evolving and every Grand Prix season is markedly different from the one it precedes. The result is a World Championship with an incredible depth of history, and a sport that will be noticeably more developed today than it was this time last year.
With the new season in sight, it’s a great time to look back on 2011 and reflect on the changes that shaped Grand Prix racing over the past twelve months.
No-one in Formula One has undergone more change over the past twelve months than Robert Kubica. This time last year the likeable Pole was full of confidence heading into his second season with Renault. He told reporters in mid January that "we hope to move forward again this year and be closer to the front. That means we will have to races against teams like Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull, and we know this will not be easy, but we will be working hard to make sure we can be part of that fight." He was right to feel confident - the new Renault set quick times in early testing and the car was quick enough to score two podiums in the early season races.
Sadly, Kubica's career took a dramatic turn on February 6th last year when he hit the sharp end of a guardrail during an Italian club rally. Robert was given the best medical attention possible but the serious injuries he sustained, in particular those to his arm and hand, ruled him out of the 2011 season. Early reports suggested that Kubica could be back behind the wheel before the end of the year but as the months wore on this became less and less likely. Up until two weeks ago, Robert was due to drive a car at Valencia in late January.
Kubica has since fallen on ice at home in Poland and has reopened a fracture he sustained in his leg during the accident. This will certainly push his recovery back, placing him in a very different position to the one he was in this time last year.
Twelve months ago Formula One was committed to opening the 2011 World Championship in Bahrain on April 1st. This was later postponed and eventually cancelled after a shambolic display of FIA indecision. As it stands today, teams are preparing to return to Bahrain on April 22 but are monitoring the political situation closely. You would like to think the FIA has learnt a lot from last year's messy episode and won’t make the same diplomatic mistakes again in 2012.
Mark Webber ended the 2010 season having come within a whisker of winning the Formula One Drivers World Championship. If it wasn't for a careless spin in the wet in Korea he might have been able to claim the sports ultimate achievement. He certainly entered 2011 full of confidence and was expecting to reignite his championship battle with Sebastian Vettel.
That battle never eventuated. Webber was utterly and totally thrashed by Vettel throughout 2011 and left no doubt about the hierarchy within Red Bull. In a year when Vettel broke all manner of records, taking 11 impressive victories, Webber could manage only one Grand Prix win (and only then because Vettel had a mysterious gearbox problem). It was not the season that Mark would have expected with the sport's most dominant car. He entered the year as a championship contender but left it trying to salvage his reputation as a Grand Prix winner.
Formula One coverage in the United Kingdom has changed dramatically over the last twelve months. This time last year the BBC's coverage was still formally headed up by Jonathan Legard and Martin Brundle. Now the BBC team consists of Ben Edwards and David Coulthard and they will only be covering ten races live. The arrival of Sky's dedicated Formula One pay channel is the biggest change to Grand Prix broadcasting in Britain since the seventies. Sky has appointed David Croft and Martin Brundle as commentators and promises to deliver greatly improved coverage, albeit at a cost. Jonathan Legard remains unemployed.
Lewis Hamilton certainly had a tumultuous 2011 and will be happy to consider the year as a learning experience. The popular Brit found himself on the worse end of several racing incidents during a year when all luck seemed to abandon him. Hamilton started the season full of confidence with a new celebrity management team, but ended the year under pressure to perform and prove that he is focussed on racing and not the superstar lifestyle.
Perhaps no team saw more change during 2011 than Virgin Racing. Over the past twelve months the tailenders have changed national licence, constructor, name (twice), and are moving into a new facility.
Marussia Motors significantly increased their involvement with Virgin Racing during 2011. The team changed its name to Marussia Virgin Racing and entered under a Russian national licence in February. By the end of the year Marussia’s investment allowed the team to complete a major internal restructure and the name was changed a second time to just ‘Marussia F1’.
Virgin Racing was originally born when Manor Motorsport and Wirth Research combined at the end of 2009. John Booth’s Manor personnel ran the team, whilst Wirth Research provided the cars. As the 2011 season progressed, it became clear that Virgin’s cars were not improving at the rate which they should be and John Booth took decisive action on behalf of Maurissa. He parted company with Wirth Research (thereby removing ‘Virgin’ as the constructor) but purchased Wirth’s Banbury facility and made arrangements to move the entire operation there. Tooth then negotiated a new technical partnership with McLaren, and immediately began using a windtunnel for the first time.
The team will start 2012 with a new name, built by new people in a new facility.
Kimi Raikkonen entered the 2011 season with no apparent desire to make any form of Grand Prix comeback. He had enjoyed a solid, although not spectacular, debut year in the World Rally Championship and was looking to cement his place in the series. As the year wore on he also extended his interests away from Formula One with a test in a Peugeot 908 Le Mans car and a brief stint racing in the NASCAR Truck Series.
As the 2012 season dawns upon us, Kimi Raikkonen is returning to Formula One with Lotus having also held extensive talks with Williams. If press releases from Lotus are to be believed, Kimi is more excited than ever to be racing in F1.
Ferrari started the year with the F150 chassis, but ended it with the 150 Italia after two name changes at the behest of Ford's zealous copyright lawyers.
Goodness knows what Colin Chapman would think if he was still alive today. In the last two years we've have Lotus Racing, Team Lotus, and Lotus Renault all make an appearance on the F1 grid, and at the start of 2011 the confusion was in its prime. Tony Fernandes had created Lotus Racing with the support of Group Lotus - owners of the brand - before a company restructure saw them purchase a stake in the Renault F1 team instead. Fernandes was able to continue racing under the Lotus banner thanks to the legal quirk that Group Lotus did not own the rights to 'Team Lotus' and the year began with two teams using the same brand.
Over the past twelve months Fernandes has bought the Caterham car company and will rebrand his team as such in 2012. Fernandes was seemingly more than happy to change names after a deal with the Malaysian Government (that part-own Group Lotus) significantly benefitted his airline.
In summary, Lotus has become Caterham, and Renault has become Lotus. In another twelve months we'll wonder what all the fuss was about.
This page was written by Martin Porter and posted by James Wilson